Chapter 32

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            At the doors to the dining hall, Kallai hesitated, biting her lip. It took Shuu’s voice in her ear again to get her moving. “No reason there is, that where you wish, you not can sit. Tall do stand. You true mage are. And you not to hurry are. At your own pace do eat. None here power have to you stop.”

            Kallai took a deep breath and let his words reassure her. She felt for the heat inside of her, taking courage from its presence, and the knowledge that it would rise up at the first thought from her. Holding her head high, she pushed one of the doors open and walked in.

            It would have been an exaggeration to say that everyone fell silent at the sight of her, but there was a definite hush in the vicinity of the tables claimed by the upper colour students. Her back straight while she felt like hyperventilating, Kallai didn’t stop until she was at the one empty end of the table populated by the other Indigos. Pretending she didn’t notice their stares and whispers, she sat down.

            Already the food was on the tables in dishes enchanted to keep it warm until removed. Kallai helped herself to several slices of chicken, some boiled vegetables, and some mashed potatoes, heavy with butter. After pouring herself a glass of juice, she focused on her meal. But for once, she ate slowly, enjoying the food, rather than rushing frantically to escape before she was noticed.

            Slowly, and with frequent glances at her, Kallai’s colour-mates resumed their conversations. She didn’t look directly at them, but neither did she deliberately hide her gaze, or use her hair as a shield. Her stomach practically purred as she put food into it at a normal speed, finally filling the hole that had been there since the end of Outer class.

            It wasn’t until Kallai had started in on one of the fruit tarts that were the evening’s dessert, that someone approached her. “Spellless,” Takine said, her chin up. “What are you doing here? These tables are for Magi, not trash that pretends to have magic.”

            Kallai felt her stomach clench, making the mouthful of tart hard to swallow. She couldn’t help her feeling of fear, of waiting for the axe to fall and not knowing how bad to was going to be. Shuu wasn’t helping by sending his voice-laden wind to whisper, “Her robes on fire do set,” into her ear.

            She shook her head, wishing, not for the first time, that she could close out Shuu’s winds. “Oh, so you’re not trash? You actually do have magic? I’d like to see that,” Takine hissed, misinterpreting the headshake.

            Doing her best to ignore the words, Kallai contemplated her fruit tart, trying not to brace herself for the impact she was sure was coming. Hunching her shoulders would only let them know they’d gotten to her. She had to keep up her confident façade, no matter how much it felt like it was weighing her down, leaving her a sitting duck.

            A hand on her shoulder had her jerking away from the grip. Kallai leapt to her feet, bringing her fire up, but keeping it within her skin. She glared at Takine, and Takine’s shadow of Amali. Her hands clenched, not out of anger, but to hide the faint tremors running through them. Kallai didn’t think she’d ever get used to this. But still, she kept her head up and her voice strong as she snapped, “Don’t touch me. The next time you, or anyone, touches me, they’ll be coming away with burns. Do you understand?”

            Takine actually flinched, taking a step back from the intensity of Kallai’s downward stare at her. She flushed and looked away. A moment later she sneered, then turned on her heel and stalked off, Amali close behind her. Kallai, like she’d always intended to stand, turned in the opposite direction and headed out of the hall.

            She walked, pretending she had all the time in the world while she wanted nothing more than to break into a run, not stopping until she was safely locked into her room. Kallai waited until she was out of the hall and down the hall, well outside of anyone’s view, before she hurried her steps.

            By the time she reached her room, she was sweating, her breath coming faster, feeling relief that she hadn’t met anyone on the way. Touching the familiar wood of her door, she didn’t relax until it was closed and locked behind her. She managed to get over to her door before she collapsed.

            Kallai shook, feeling sick. She didn’t know if she could keep it up, keep pretending to be someone else, someone confident. It was so hard. And with the eyes always on her, eyes that more often than not, had ignored or aided her tormentors did nothing to make it easier.

            A hand touched the back of her head, making her jerk upright. Shuu smiled down at her. She hadn’t heard him come in, finally having weighed every stray bit of paper in her room down to avoid a mess when he decided to appear. “Good job, Sparrow,” he said, ruffling her hair. “Just a bit more, and no one you will challenge.”

            As she mentally prepared herself for her nightly lesson, Kallai wasn’t too sure about how true that statement was.

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